TUCSON DESERT OASIS INITATIVE
/ UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
The Desert Oasis Initiative is focused on restoration of water harvesting know-how evolved over 4,000 years to create North America's first documented farming site. The sprawling, desert city of Tucson, the University of Arizona, and the Native American Nations have embraced a Florentine proposal headed by ITKI Director Pietro Laureano to create an artificial oasis near downtown Tucson. The oasis is to be made using water collection strategies the indigenous Hohokam people developed over 3000 years ago, and serve as a beacon of sustainable practices for re-greening the desert.
Central to this effort is the uncovering of sophisticated ancient water management methods discovered in modern times along the watershed of the Santa Cruz River. These efforts are concentrated within the Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area shown on the below map.
As of 2012, The City of Tucson has so far pledged 20 million U.S. dollars to the effort, marking the first time a major, modern city has looked to ancient, native techniques to help fight its own struggle against desertification. The pledge and support is a major breakthrough for oasis supporters like Pietro Laureano, Italy’s foremost expert on combating desertification, who challenged 60 Arizona leaders and scholars at a November conference in Tuscon to create it.
The Tucson Oasis project will include building a new branch of the International Traditional Knowledge Institute (ITKI). One of the ITKI’s tasks will be to document and communicate what has been heralded as one of the most important archaeological finds of the decade: 3200 year-old irrigation canals north of Tucson, and even older canals downtown. Researchers found that farmers in the Tucson basin began cultivating maize 4100 years ago, and went on to create the oldest and most enduring agricultural water management system in the United States.